Trendsetters: Future of Retail – Jonathan Chippindale, CEO of Holition, on the future of retail technology


One Monday 18th March, Insider Trends invited 4 retail trendsetters to share their projects and predictions for the future for their ‘Trendsetters: Future of Retail’ evening.


Jonathan Chippindale, CEO of Holition, gave the last presentation of the evening. Holition is a company that delivers interactive digital experiences for luxury brands. Augmented reality, holograms and 3D are three main areas of expertise.

Jonathan showcased a range of innovations for brands such as Dunhill and Uniqlo that blew the audience’s mind. He also included some useful stats about the future of retail and presented some poignant insights about how tech should be used in the retail space.

The video recording of his presentation is above. His Prezi presentation from the evening is at the end of this post.


Jonathan’s transcript:

Luxury, which is my world, has a very narrow channel of communication. It has great PR, great print and amazing stores. But it’s not really about digital. Ecommerce was seen as a threat. So much money and investment of resource and training has been put into these incredible flagship stores that luxury brands have been building around the world. So the idea of digital was seen as a real threat. Brands felt it was an impersonal channel to communicate the touch and the feel and the essence of their stores. You had to be able to feel the weight of the Rolex watch and appreciate the stitchery of the Birkin bag and digital wasn’t really doing that.

Now the whole world is becoming more digitally minded and connected. Luxury brands didn’t have the tools to take advantage of this. We were interested to see whether we could find technology to bridge that gap between digitally-minded consumers and staid old luxury. Holition has been focussing on this for the last three years. It’s a journey that we are on and will still be on in three years’ time, God willing.

On that journey, we’re inventing the rules as we go along. We have customers having fun and coming back to us for more. There is no digital or emerging digital handbook. We’re all just in it for the journey.

Because we are ex-retailers, we are very, very passionate about retail. We understand that digital and e-commerce are a threat to retail, so we try and work with omni-channels. We’re working with online, the physical space and mobile and trying to understand how these three channels work together. I think brands are really waking up to this.

In the luxury world, it’s taking a little longer. Louis Vuitton were the first brand that started letting consumers buy in-store, online and on their mobile depending on what they want to buy, when they want to buy it and why they want to buy it.

There are times that customers want to be social and pick things up, there are times they are on a bus wanting to purchase something and there are times they want to be at home making their purchase decisions. So trying to work out how these three interact are part of this experiment.


Holition’s first project for Tissot

The first project we did was for Tissot watches. You put your hand up in front of a webcam, a watch appears on your wrist, you can turn it around and see 36 different watches. We took this online application, put it onscreen inside the windows of Selfridges on Oxford Street and allowed people who were walking home or popping out to buy a sandwich to try on watches in the street, directed them through to the Tissot boutique and sales went up 83% over the two weeks. We’ve been working with Forevermark in Asia which is part of the De Beers group, trying on necklaces, rings and earrings.

Our second project was with Boucheron, a 250-year-old traditional French jeweller. They were the first ones who really understood that you can take tradition and communicate that digitally. A lot of traditional brands think that digital communication isn’t for them because they’re just about craftsmanship. Boucheron were able to understand that you can communicate craftsmanship through digital. Digital is just a channel of communication that’s different from print, TV and direct marketing. It’s just a different way to communicate the same old values. Place Vendôme is the heart of old-fashioned traditional luxury French retail. If you pulled out your mobile phone there, you’d probably get arrested. The project we worked on with them was a fantastic application. Well done, Boucheron, for being so brave.

We did a popup shop for Louis Vuitton handbags which has been all over the world. You can hold your iPad up and see 20 or 30 different handbags just by swiping. The handbag looks like it’s actually on the table. You can zoom in – the iPad is a window onto the product.

We did a project for Vogue, and Garrard, which is the oldest jeweller in the world. This was around the time of Kate Middleton’s wedding. You can put your face in front of a mirror and it glues a tiara to your head – you too can be a princess for a day.


Holition’s project for Garrard


Autostereoscopic 3D is a 3D screen that gives you the idea of 3D without wearing glasses. We did a project for De Beers that went into Bond Street, Fifth Avenue and Isetan department store in Japan. It was a fantastic piece of work for a company that was struggling to reinvent itself as a modern company with a message for today’s consumer.


The biggest project we’ve done, perhaps not in terms of margin but in terms of size, was a holographic projection for Dunhill. Sixty four real models wore the clothes on a stage in Shanghai at a big fashion show. We projected a series of seasons, trees growing, blossoms coming on the trees, falling off, turning into butterflies, snow coming down on a London set – all projected live into the space. We put a film together and posted it three hours after the show finished. 3.5 million people saw it in the first week. That’s the power of social media.

Holition’s project for Dunhill combined live models with holograms


We did a project with Helena Christensen and Triumph at Selfridges a year ago where there was a virtual mannequin on a screen that moved as you did by tracking your movements, and you could try on different underwear.

We also work a lot with internships: the Royal College of Art, the London College of Fashion, lots of universities around London. We ask students to come in and we work on their degree shows. We give them our useful tools and ask them to show us what they can do with them.


Discussing the liberation of the consumer, luxury retail has fundamentally changed over the last ten years. As an example – ten years ago, Gucci would talk to their customers in a linear, one-dimensional way. They would tell people what to wear, who to look like. They would have a picture of Kate Moss looking gorgeous on the wall. They would have these incredible stores that were very intimidating. They would explain what the lifestyle was and invite you to partake of it. It is a lot different now.

Through digital – through mobiles, tablets and computers, now the most important relationship is not the one that the brand has to you, but the relationship of what happens to that information when you’ve got it. Who you share it with, who you send it to. Kate Moss may still be a role model, but another role model might be your best friend who’s a lot cooler than you, a lot better looking than you and wears really cool things. “I want to look as cool as they do and I’m more interested in what they’re wearing.”

The idea of Joan Collins head to toe in Burberry check getting out of a private jet with matching suitcases then seemed like power, but now it just seems stupid and poorly educated. Now it’s about the mixing and matching, and digital really helps there.


Mobile devices are making a massive impact. Statistics from Christmas 2011 show that in the UK during the month of December and the first half of January, 6.8 million tablet, Android and iPad activations happened. Whereas high-street spend went up by 2%, m-commerce spend went up 275%. People may say that is because it’s from a zero base, but if you look at traffic and spend for the top 150 UK sites, 20% of every site visit and 15% of all spending came from a mobile device. That change is incredible. When I first met Cartier three years ago, they liked what I was doing, but they thought that no one would ever buy a Cartier product online. When I saw them last month, they were showing me their wonderful new e-commerce site and told me I was right.

I told them that consumers were smarter and more agile than they were and they’ve moved on, and their amazing Flash-enabled site wouldn’t be viewable on tablets and portable devices people are using now. You have to keep ahead of the game. One in five Americans are given their iPads. People use them for work. 73% of people around the world now use their computers less because they have an iPad. 63% of all Americans rarely use their laptop or computer outside of work because they’re using mobile devices. 90% of Asians consume less printed media. They always go on their iPad.


This section is about augmented reality – convenience and the rise of the virtual product. We’re very interested in technology, but not for technology’s sake. Tech for tech’s sake is simply a gimmick that’s not relevant to our customers. We’re interested in finding ways where technology can help the purchase or give the consumer something that the real thing could not do.

I’m not particularly au fait with the lipstick market, however, as I understand it, it’s difficult to go into a department store and try on lots of cosmetics. In Selfridges there must be 15,000 brands and colours of lipstick but you can probably only try on one or two. In China, you wouldn’t try on any as it’s seen to be very unhygienic to touch anything that anyone has touched or put on. Our developer tested this technology which allows you to virtually try on lipstick. It just uses a laptop and a webcam. You try everything on digitally, online. We’ve got two customers launching this in a couple of months. From there, we’re doing nails, mascara and foundation.

Another application we did was for a brand called Tacori, which is a big American bridal brand. You just put your hand in front of your webcam and try on any one of 50 diamond rings. We put this into Bloomingdale’s where they have a jewellery counter at the back of the store on the mezzanine. It’s destination, so you never normally go there unless you really have to buy a piece of jewellery. We found a place where six escalators all met and put screens up where people could try on jewellery. As women came down, they could see something was going on and wanted to have a look. Then we would direct them to the jewellery counter. We also did some fun live PR on ABC news – breakfast TV. We had a guy propose in the street live on camera. He then said “Oh my God, I’ve got no ring!” You can guess the rest.

The one we’ve just done is an installation in-store. Using an iPad, you can choose up to 50 colour combinations of different trainers. The digital shoes stay on your feet as you move – budding Fred Astaires and Gene Kellys have tried to break our system.


This is a project for Uniqlo. They are all about colour. Using the application, you can try on whatever T-shirt colour you want. When we did this, Uniqlo had not decided how many colours they would do for autumn. They’ve turned it into 102 different colours. We used an infinite colour wheel to prove we could do any combination or saturation. That’s in-store in San Francisco, where there are two magic mirrors. Two in New York go in next month, and then Paris, Berlin and London towards the end of the year. It’s an interesting application. Like all our applications, you can take photographs of yourself and tweet it or upload it to Facebook automatically from the mirror.


We’ve designed the Uniqlo system so, as you walk past the mirror in-store with a phone in your pocket, your phone vibrates and says, “Hey, I’m the Uniqlo mirror. Can I talk to your iPhone?” If you say yes, you can change all the colours in front of the mirror on your iPhone and tweet the pictures and all that good stuff.

Now I’ll discuss how I see the future. This is the Uniqlo magic mirror in San Francisco two days after it launched on the 5th of October. On the 7th, 160,022 people had viewed this unofficial film posted by three members of the public from their iPhone. So it had just been shared and shared and shared.

I’m interested in this idea of social multiplication, the idea that personal experiences can be shared. It’s happening now, but it’s going to go on and become more prevalent. This is one of the very first ones by Hermès , but they cheated and used models pretending to be consumers. I’m interested in this because we work with Hermès. Their creative director, Pierre-Alexis Dumas, said a very interesting thing when he did this project. He said when he looks at all his stores and sees all the ties in the window, he doesn’t think they signify the Hermès brand at all, which is exactly the opposite of what he would have said ten years ago when the products in the store were the brand. That’s all the brand was, it was all about the products.  He’s interested that those regimented products are used by real people. One guy could wear the tie formally in a board meeting, or a big fat knot like a footballer, or someone could use it as a belt. It doesn’t really matter. He’s interested in the stories his products have triggered. It’s an interesting idea that many brands are using. It’s not just about posting it, it’s about why you would share it.

I’m also interested in this link between online and in-store. I think many retailers do it very badly with mobile phones. I can’t stand these shops where you get your mobile phone out, open up your QR code reader and go around like Daleks, bumping into things because you’re looking at the world through mobile phones. I must admit I disagree with the Burberry store. I can’t understand why you’d be in a shop full of beautiful things just looking at an iPad. It’s like being at the Niagara Falls looking at postcard of it. Step back and see the macro side of it.

C&A in Brazil is another example. You can “like” a whole load of products on Facebook and it updates the information that’s right on the item’s hanger in the store. It’s interesting because, as a consumer, it’s taking the scale of online and giving you some information that will help inform your purchase. As a purchaser, do you go for the one that no one else likes because you know no one else is going to wear it? How does all that work?

Facebook-connected hangars in C&A

C&A’s hangars that shows Facebook likes


There’s a company called PERCH which is an experimental technology company. If you walk into a shop, three or four shoes will be on display. When you pick up one, a projector display a message that says something like, “That shoe comes in these colours and these ranges, and by the way, that one’s available and that one’s not in till next Tuesday, but send me an email and I’ll tell you when it’s here.” That idea tries to get around that bit where you’re stuck in a shop with somebody walking off to see if there’s something in the storeroom and they may never come back.

There is stuff that online does well and stuff that in-store does well – and there’s a lot of work to be done on how those two work together. Burberry’s most successful social media campaign is the runway tweets where they tweet the photographs before the models come out so the whole world can share in the fashion show. All this amazing social-media hype is very, very high, but like a match that burns twice as bright, it burns half as long. It’s a very narrow little bandwidth. Unlike every other type of print media, you’ve got to keep going on and on – it’s like background noise.


Finally, I’m interested in this idea of the consumer taking control. Now you can be your own retailer, telling the brands how to work their magic. It’s a really powerful idea. So with Nuji, if I like a pair of shorts but it’s quite expensive, I post them on Nuji and I get six points. Then if a friend of mine sees that and shares it with his network, I get another ten points. And if his friend shares it, I get another ten points. By the end of the month, I’ve got a load of points. Points make prizes, as they say. The more points I get, the more of a discount I get on that product. A really simple idea, but Nuji have 30,000 brands and retail stores. They have 900,000 products and every couple of months they get 60 million hits, which is the kind of traffic that most of those branded sites that tell you what you should be wearing would die for. And they put no money in marketing or branding. They’re just using the power of the crowd and their friends.

Taking it one step further, I can use StyleOwner that lets you have your own web shop stocked with other brands’ goods. So I won’t create my own site, I’ll just work with StyleOwner. It’s interesting because the participants don’t own any of the products and aren’t stocking any of that product, they’re just taking other people’s product ideas and putting it on that page and telling all their friends about it. If any of their friends purchase it, they get cash in exchange. So you can have a whole business selling other people’s products.